The New England Revolution swap their rain-soaked home for the Texas heat this weekend for their match against FC Dallas, and Steve Nicol will be hoping that the change in weather does not affect his team's recent revival. The temperature at game time in Frisco is expected to be in the mid-80s and Nicol this week preached the need for his side, which has won two consecutive games for the first time this season, to play smartly to ensure that it does not waste energy.
"The heat is going to be a factor so we don't want to be running all over the place, draining ourselves. We are going to go there and try and play but, first of all we need to get a good shape," said Nicol.
Nicol hopes to have Pat Noonan back as an option Saturday. The U.S. international returned to training following a hamstring strain, and though he is unlikely to start according to Nicol, could come off the bench if needed.
Noonan's return is a timely boost to a Revs side that continues to operate with a skeleton staff. Daniel Hernandez will not make the trip to his home state and Khano Smith, Leandro de Oliveira and Marshall Leonard are also out. The loss of so many first team players has had an unsettling effect, said Nicol, who has relied on several players to play in unfamiliar roles in recent weeks.
"When you have to swap players about, it's difficult. When you get a settled team, it does things without thinking about it. When you move people around to accommodate what is going on, you lose that edge," he said. "People are not so certain what is happening and are not so sure of things."
Never was the problem more in evidence than the first half last week against Chivas USA. The Revolution, with Joe Franchino in central midfield and Steve Ralston playing off Taylor Twellman in attack, struggled to get into the game. They went behind before a tactical switch saw Willie Sims come on, allowing Ralston to revert to the right of midfield, with Franchino sliding left. The move gave the side more cohesion and was a big factor in its eventual 3-1 win.
The man that paid the heaviest penalty for the tepid first-half display last week was Tony Lochhead, who Sims replaced at the interval. The New Zealand international was guilty of the turnover that led to the Chivas goal, though Nicol says that will not count against him in the future.
"He made a mistake but, in previous weeks, other people have made mistakes. But it doesn't mean we'll take him to the electric chair," Nicol said. "Everybody makes mistakes. The change was to make sure that everybody had a bit more familiarity."
Lochhead or Sims would seem to be fighting it out for a starting berth and, although with Nicol nothing is certain, the former man's defensive acumen is likely to get him the nod with Sims kept for later on as a potential impact replacement. Lochhead starting would mean Franchino will continue in the middle alongside Shalrie Joseph, with Nicol banking on his skipper's experience to get him through in a position he is not used to.
Playing on the road in the heat is likely to be a big factor in who makes the Revs lineup, as is the offensive threat posed by Dallas, with one man in particular sure to cause the Revs problems on Saturday night.
"Up top, [Carlos] Ruiz is always a threat and you can't take your eyes off him for the whole of the 90 minutes," said Nicol. "You just have to make sure you are on your game with him. He is a proven scorer who has topped the charts every year since he has been here. You just can't afford to have a rest. You have to be on your toes all the time."
Saturday's game will be the first time the Revolution have played at Pizza Hut Park since last year's MLS Cup Final. While everyone associated with the club says that this game has nothing to do with burying memories of that day, certain things learned last November will be a factor against Colin Clarke's side, not least being the size of the playing surface.
"I think the key, with the field being so big, is staying compact defensively and choosing the right time to go forward," said Taylor Twellman on Friday. "That was what we did extremely well in the final, we just didn't get forward. It is a great place to play so it should be good."
Twellman enters the game with goals in each of his last three games, a statistic that Ruiz has matched. The matchup of two of the league's top strikers is just one of a list of mouthwatering confrontations that are in prospect and Twellman is excited to get the game underway, particularly following his recent success, which has been reflected by an upturn in fortunes for his side.
"We are in good shape right now," said Twellman. "I think everybody is playing two-touch, which is the way we play. In the first few games, we weren't moving the ball well and our passes weren't great. When we play two-touch and get the ball moving fast this team is good."
Andrew Hush is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.